Barbara Hudak, Founder of Heartful Integrations is a HeartMath® Certified Master Trainer who specializes in helping individuals and organizations achieve greater coherence and resilience through HeartMath®’s scientifically-validated techniques and technologies. Barbara has dedicated her career to empowering others to manage stress, increase emotional intelligence, and improve their overall well-being. MysticMag finds out more.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be an integrative wellness consultant and HeartMath® Certified Master Trainer?
Since I was a child, I knew I would be in the healing profession. I received my undergrad degree in Nursing and joined the U.S. Air Force right after graduation. On active duty, I was fortunate to be stationed in several bases around the world. During that time, my passion and area of expertise was cardiac intensive care, emergency services and flight nursing. During my last tour of duty in Arizona, I transitioned to nursing leadership.
Soon after my husband and I moved to Arizona, I felt drawn to take a Reiki class, even though I had never heard of it before. What I experienced after receiving my Reiki Master attunement was life-altering. It was as though my heart and intuitive guidance expanded. Up to that point, I had been an analytical, logical person who loved evidence-based research. In 1998, there wasn’t much, if any, research around Reiki yet I felt an inner expansion of curiosity around holistic nursing.
My intuition guided me to a new acute care hospital that was being built in Phoenix – the Mayo Clinic Hospital. I was hired on the spot and transitioned to a nursing leadership position. For me at the time, this was the pinnacle of evidence-based healthcare. During my time at Mayo Clinic, I served on the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Subcommittee with some conscious wellness visionaries who supported integrative therapies for our patients. One of them was Dr. Teri Pipe, our Director of Nursing Research; the other was Dr. Nancy Rizzo, a radiation biophysicist who was the Vice Chair of the Subcommittee. Both of these heart-centered leaders practice HeartMath® techniques.
In 2008, I was invited by our then Chief Nursing Officer, Debbie Pendergast, to take part in a research study for Mayo Clinic leaders – it was focused on resilience and stress management. I was honored to be invited but didn’t feel particularly stressed at the time. Well, the HeartMath® technology told a very different story! It turns out that over the years, I had normalized stress and didn’t even realize that my nervous system was a hot mess ☺
The interventions that I learned in the program transformed my life and inspired me to share the HeartMath® approach with my colleagues. I became a trainer for the hospital and was introduced to a world of coherence, biofeedback and emotional self-regulation techniques as a way to mitigate stress symptoms and burnout. In 2011, I earned the designation of HeartMath® Certified Master Trainer and Mentor – I get to guide and prepare individuals interested in pursuing the path of heart-centered trainer.
In 2014, I transitioned to private practice to serve a larger population of healthcare professionals, military veterans and first responders. In 2015, my husband of nearly 30 years passed away unexpectedly and I’m grateful for my daily coherence-building practice that supported my grief recovery and healing process.
Could you explain what HeartMath® is and how it can benefit individuals seeking to improve their wellness and resilience?
Please note that I am not speaking on behalf of HeartMath, Inc, but as an independent HeartMath® Certified Trainer.
A quote from the HeartMath® website: “The HeartMath system empowers people to self-regulate their emotions and behaviors to reduce stress, increase resilience, and unlock their natural intuitive guidance for making more effective choices. This enables people to break through to greater levels of personal balance, creativity, insight and health. Over 300 peer-reviewed or independent studies utilizing HeartMath techniques or technologies to achieve beneficial outcomes have been published”.
HeartMath® is a system of scientifically based techniques, tools, and technology to help with self-awareness, emotional self-regulation, and emotional re-patterning. At the core of this approach is Heart Coherence. As a cardiac nurse, I was never introduced to this concept so I was surprised at the growing amount of research around it! According to the HeartMath Institute, “Heart coherence is a high performance and healthy state — physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually — that brings out the very best in us”.
Heart Coherence is a state of alignment or synchronization within the nervous system that fosters Heart : Brain Coherence. It can be felt within the body AND it can be measured with the technology.
Research on the HeartMath website demonstrates the benefits:
“Studies conducted with over 11,500* people have shown improvements in mental & emotional well-being in just 6-9 weeks using HeartMath training and technology.
- 24% improvement in the ability to focus
- 30% improvement in sleep
- 38% improvement in calmness
- 46% drop in anxiety
- 48% drop in fatigue
- 56% drop in depression
* N= 11,903 Percent of individuals responding ‘often to always’ on normed and validated pre and post Personal and Organizational Quality Assessment (POQA-R)”
Your website mentions that you focus on helping individuals and organizations build resilience. Why do you think Resilience is such an important skill to cultivate in today’s world and how do you go about helping people develop it?
We’re living in unprecedented times of uncertainty and may experience feelings of overwhelm, stress, anxiety or burnout, among others. When I teach resilience skills to healthcare providers, especially after their COVID experiences, I often begin with a new perspective of resilience. It’s so easy to resist when we’re invited to “learn to be more resilient” UGH!!! Because who needs one more thing on our plate? Or we can feel “less than” or “flawed” when we just can’t show up like we did in the past.
Here’s an example: Think of a time when you didn’t get enough sleep, and missed a meal and had a LOT on your “to do” list…and then that one person makes that one comment!! KABOOM!!! And it’s not just the outer explosion…so many of us keep our inner implosion under the radar…but it’s still creating a cascade of stress hormones that linger for hours after the situation is over.
Do you think that you would have responded that explosively if you had more fuel in your inner gas tank? What if you had built up a reserve of inner energy that you could draw upon at any time? The situation may be the same, but you will respond differently based on how much energy you have in your inner battery.
The goal of teaching resilience is to help to increase your INNER CAPACITY, not to avoid the situations that you face on a day-to-day basis. This is the foundation of the Resilience Advantage™ and newly launched Coherence Advantage™ programs. HeartMath’s definition: “Resilience is the capacity to prepare for, recover from or adapt in the face of stress, challenge or adversity”. The key word is capacity and capacity can be cultivated and increased over time.
In my private coaching sessions, I co-create a unique action plan for and with my clients. Generally, this consists of at least four 60-minute sessions and includes pre-work, use of the HeartMath® technology and an action plan to ground the practice between our sessions. I also offer an optional assessment tool to help people more fully understand how specific aspects of stress, well-being and resilience affect the quality of their life.
In small group or organizational training workshops, I incorporate best practices and the HeartMath® scientifically validated techniques and technology to choreograph a meaningful experience for the participants. Here’s a link to the Mayo Clinic study abstract (https://www.heartmath.org/research/research-library/organizational/building-personal-and-professional-resources-and-agility-in-the-healthcare-workplace/).
The impact of group heart coherence can fuel change within an organization much more quickly than simply conceptualizing change strategies.
In my experience, if there’s an open mind and an open heart, transformation can occur when we add the power of the heart.
You offer a variety of services, including coaching, mentoring, and workshops. Can you talk about how these different modalities complement each other and how you decide which to use in a given situation?
The underpinning of all my offerings is heart coherence. To me, the heart does the heavy lifting with effortless ease. This energy can be harnessed to facilitate practical solutions to help you lower your stress, revitalize energy and resilience and restore your mental, emotional and physical balance. This is often the focus of my one-on-one or couples coaching sessions.
In small group coaching, we focus not only on personal coherence but also heart connections with family, friends or co-workers. Heart-centered connection adds more ease and flow to relationships and create spaces for deeper listening and communication.
Curated Workshops serve larger audiences, corporations, healthcare organizations, military groups or any team seeking to infuse more creativity, innovation, efficiency or uplevel communication between team members.
Mentoring is reserved for my service as a HeartMath® Certified Master Trainer and Mentor. I get the joyful opportunity to mentor individuals from all over the world who made the commitment to attend our Certification Program.
One of the areas you specialize in is working with caregivers, who often experience high levels of stress and burn out. What unique challenges do caregivers face, and how do you help them cope with these challenges?
As a caregiver who experienced burnout several times in my career, my primary rule of engagement is Compassionate Latitude. Listen to the Podcast: A Growing Need for Compassionate Latitude
According to HeartMath: “Compassion helps raise the vibration of the individual and collective environment. It helps us connect with our higher reasoning capacity to make smarter choices while managing the infectious waves of stress and insecurity that are on the rise. Latitude is an attitude that includes qualities such as being less critical and more patient and tolerant with each other yet not having to agree with or condone another’s views or actions.”
Whenever I was in the midst of a burnout crisis, I turned in on myself, not realizing that I was being cruel to myself. I wondered “what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I shake this off? How did I fail?”
Many years later, when I sat in the research study at Mayo Clinic with my heart rhythm sensor clipped to my ear…I realized that I had not been taking care of myself over the last two decades! I was so focused on the needs of my patients, my family and other’s needs that I completely disregarded my own. I had shut down my heart so I couldn’t feel the trauma and the pain I witnessed every day. That survival mechanism was no longer serving me.
How did I get here? I entered the nursing profession to care for others, as do many caregivers. Back in the 1980’s we were trained, rewarded, and sadly sometimes bullied, into dismissing our own needs. Self-care was selfish.
I remember frequent chats with ICU colleagues (and our first responder buddies) after a 16-hour night shift at a local pub (yes there’s a morning happy hour for graveyard workers ☺). We’d joke that we didn’t drink any water during our shift so we didn’t have to use the restroom – who has time to pee when you’re trying to keep a patient alive on life support on your shift?
It may seem silly but at the time, that was the sign of a “good nurse” – annual evaluations highlighted selfless acts of sacrifice. Altruistic? Sure. Sustainable? Absolutely not.
So back to the Compassionate Latitude that I mentioned. First is self-awareness. We notice patterns of behavior, thoughts or beliefs that we learned and integrated over the years. Next, identify and reflect on whether these patterns/programs are energy draining or energy giving. Then summon deep compassion for ourselves and honor that the patterns got us here. They may have helped us to survive some awful situations. AND NOW we get to choose another way, a more coherent way to move through life and maybe even THRIVE!
What advice do you have for someone who is interested in improving their wellness and resilience, but isn’t sure where to start? Are there any simple practices or techniques that can be especially helpful for beginners?
For me, it all begins with self-awareness and noticing what you’re currently doing or being. We often have blind spots around our default patterns – that’s where it helps to have a coach to reflect what we hear you saying.
If we think, feel or do something often enough, we develop a tendency that gets wired in our neural networks. So much so, that it becomes a habit or a predictable way of responding in a situation.
For me, the first step is to pause and take a few slow, deep breaths while you focus on your heart. Then just tune in to your body. What do you notice? Are there any sensations of physical tightness or constriction? Any racing thoughts? Any sense of anxiety, overwhelm or frustration? Tune in without any judgment…just notice and continue breathing slowly and deeply at an even pace.
If you notice a sense of calm or that your heart rate slowed down a little – GREAT! You just influenced your nervous system to conserve a little energy and cleared some static within your body.
Next, check out the HeartMath Experience. This FREE online collection offers nine video modules to introduce you to the HeartMath® techniques. If you resonate with the content and want to learn more, feel free to connect with me. Thanks to the gift of the internet, I offer global virtual sessions on Zoom. If you don’t see any online sessions that work with your schedule, please reach out to me at [email protected].
If you would like to find out more about Barbara Hudak, visit https://www.heartfulintegrations.com/ or follow on https://www.instagram.com/heartful.integrations/ or https://www.facebook.com/heartful.integrations1111